Feints & Gambits: Armless

This past Saturday was the inaugural game session of my new Feints & Gambits DFRPG campaign. We’re running this game quorum-style, so that we play as long as three of the six players show up. For the first game, we had four players ((The holiday season always makes scheduling somewhat more challenging, what with everyone’s family commitments.)).

I spent the first half-hour or so making sure everyone was up to speed on the game system, and answering any lingering questions about characters and mechanics. I’ve gotten pretty good at giving a condensed overview of the FATE system in about fifteen minutes; I expanded things here, because we’re looking at a long-term campaign, and I wanted to make sure that everyone had a decent grounding, so they understood their options.

First games of new campaigns are tricky things, I find. You need to take things easy as people get up to speed on the system and what their characters can do, but you also want some interesting stuff to happen so that the players get hooked and want to keep coming back. So, that means finding exciting action that is still fairly simple, mechanically speaking.

The collaborative city-building can really help get things rolling, because the players are already anxious and interested in playing in the setting they’ve built, and finding all the cool stuff they put there. And in finding all the neat little connections and secrets that have grown from the basic groundwork. There are already things they care about, and they already have some enemies and allies, thanks to the story phases of character creation, so really it’s just a matter of picking and choosing.

My objectives for this session was to give each of the four players a chance to do something interesting and special with their characters, and to wrap up the adventure in a single session ((Though the repercussions are probably going to stretch out longer than that.)). When I build adventures like this, all I generally do is come up with the situation – who, what, where, and why – and then I expose one bit of the resulting situation to the characters ((Of course, the bit I expose to them has to be something that impels them to take action.)). After that, if I have a fairly solid idea of the situation, it’s pretty easy to properly adjudicate character actions and let them choose their own path to resolving the situation ((This approach works far better in games where it’s simple to come up with stats and challenges on the fly – like DFRPG or Trail of Cthulhu – than ones where it’s more difficult or time-consuming, like D&D.)).

The result, I find, is a fairly organic structure that responds properly to character actions, and leads to character-directed action, rather than set-piece encounters ((Though, to be fair, I usually put together a page or two of stats and notes that I can turn into interesting set-piece encounters on the fly, because those are fun and exciting sometimes.)).

That’s what I did this time.

Things started out with the characters showing up at The Silver Arm, the local supernatural pub, to find no music, and everyone being very quiet. Turns out that the pub’s sign ((A silver armoured arm and hand that hung outside above the door.)) had been stolen, and the owner, Macha MacRuad, was furious. She wouldn’t let anyone even talk about it in the pub.

That got everyone motivated to go find the sign. They managed to trace it to a house in a pretty run-down neighbourhood that was being used as a clubhouse by the Snowbirds, the Winter Court gang that hung around the Millennium Spire. Stealing the sign was apparently a new move in the ongoing games of one-upmanship between the fey courts. The Summer Court gang, the Sunshine Boys, were rumoured to be getting ready to snatch the arm themselves.

A little bit of scouting found them a way in, and Kate had a couple of good veiling potions for her and Rogan. Firinne was able to use her glamours to veil herself. That left Aleister, who wasn’t all that sneaky. He set himself up in a sniper’s nest across the street with a paintball gun, and acted as a distraction.

Things went pretty well at first, with Aleister drawing out most of the gang members and the other three sneaking in through an upstairs window, thanks to a convenient shed ((Placed by using a Burglary declaration while casing the building.)). Things turned a little south when the gang used some pixies to find Aleister and he had to leg it out of there, and the folks inside the house found that there was still an ogre left on guard.

We got to some action here, though, interestingly, not a one of the characters tried to attack anyone. Aleister’s goal was not to beat anyone up, but to lure them away from the clubhouse to give the other three time to find the arm. The three inside knew they were completely outclassed by the ogre, so they just wanted to grab the arm ((Which had been nailed to a block of wood and turned into a lamp.)) and run like bunnies.

They all managed it, though Aleister was completely overwhelmed by the gang members ((Ganging up on someone and spending an exchange or two to use maneuvers to layer on the Aspects is a devastating tactic.)), and wound up conceding the fight – he had the gang members kick the crap out of him and dump him in the Liffey. Inside the house, the veiling the characters used kept the ogre from effectively targeting them, and then Kate threw a handful of iron filings into his face to keep him distracted. Rogan tripped him up with a chair, and Firinne swapped the lamp for a manikin’s arm that she had glamoured up to last for a few minutes ((She also left a taunting note, being a trickster-style changeling herself. THAT’s not gonna come back to bite her, at all. Good use of a compel, I thought.)).

So, they got the sign back, got Aleister to the hospital, and called it a night.

Over all, I think the game went quite well, and everyone seemed to have a good time. It was fairly light, and everyone took to heart the dangers of violence ((Especially at their power level.)), but they’ve also made some interesting choices about the sides their on, and there’s going to be an ogre Snowbird looking for a certain witch with payback in mind.

Yeah, I call it a win.

Feints & Gambits: This Is Who We Are

This past Saturday was the character creation session for the Feints & Gambits campaign that I’m starting up. After a little bit of schedule juggling, I managed to get all six players in the same room for the session, which is vital for the DFRPG character creation to really shine ((The game sessions themselves are going to be quorum-style, with a minimum of three players. That should make scheduling easier.)). Start time was delayed slightly by the Santa Claus Parade ((Tied up traffic in the downtown area, and several of the folks were coming across town.)), but we got underway around 8:00, so we were able to wrap things up by midnight.

I had a little surprise for the players, as well: I had burned a little of the midnight oil, and managed to get the setting bible for the game completed and printed for them. So, as they walked in, I handed them each a copy for their very own ((Those of you who might be interested in seeing the finished document, it’s up on our forum in .pdf format here.)), which they seemed to like ((And then, of course, Sandy found a typo within two minutes.)).

Everyone in the game knew the basics of character creation, either from the playtest or from Spirit of the Century, so there wasn’t a lot of set-up that I had to do. We jumped right in, following the phases in the book, and sorting the characters out. Along the way, we had some discussions about different parts of the game: Aspects, Powers, Stunts, Skills, and the like, as players had questions.

Once again, the group character creation really shone. The group brainstorming about Aspects, discussion of character motivation, clarification of background, all of it really fed the whole process. I know that at least a couple of character concepts changed and clarified for the players, and I think everyone came away with a character that was made better by the input of the group. And it was really great to see the players getting more interested in, and more excited by, their characters.

Now, if you read over the setting bible, you’ll see that the fey are a really big factor in supernatural Dublin ((Of course they are! It’s Ireland, for crying out loud!)), and they came up a lot in the character creation, as well. Pretty much every character has at least one encounter with the fey in their background. And these encounters are never good. Why am I commenting on this? Well, because it’s really showing me what the players want in the game. They don’t like faeries, so it makes sense that the fey courts are going to be frequent opposition, or at least complications, in the game.

This is such a useful tool for the GM. After all, we’ve got four different overarching threats in the setting bible, but the players all zeroed in on the fey courts. Not Baba Yaga and her crew. Not the political situation. Not the Church-sponsored strike force. The fey courts. It’s showing me what they find most interesting, what they think is the main theme of the game, and how they look at that theme. Rich, rich fodder for building scenarios.

Not that I’m going to focus everything on the fey courts. I mean, the city creation session comes up with so much stuff that I’d be an idiot to ignore everything but one aspect of it. But it does mean that the fey influence is going to be prevalent and pervasive. And most likely annoying for the characters.

I took a little extra time swapping around the novels for the guest-star phases to make sure that the net of connections spread wide enough. I wanted to make sure that everyone got two different guest stars, and guest-starred in the stories of two different characters, giving them connections to four of the six characters in play. It just makes it easier to draw everyone together if the network has more connections.

So, who are the characters?

  • Aleister Usher, Venatori Guardian
  • Kate Owens, Wiccan Seeker
  • Rogan O’Herir, Were-Cat Stalker
  • Firrin O’Beara, Changeling Social Engineer
  • Nathaniel O’Malley, Angry Irish Spellslinger
  • Mark O’Malley, Irish Mystic Hacker ((Not hacker in the computer sense, you understand. Hacker in that he tinkers with the ideas and rules of magic, mainly looking to circumvent them.))

Once the character creation phases were done, we talked a little about what the next steps were. The consensus was that everyone wanted to stop for the evening, and to assess the more mechanical bits of character creation – Powers, Skills, Stunts, etc. – on their own, with me answering questions and providing advice via e-mail. So that’s what we did.

So far, I’ve seen at least preliminary builds from three of the six players, and they all look good. I’m getting excited to run the game. In fact, I’ve scheduled the first one for two weeks from the character building. That should, I hope, get them moving on finishing up the characters. I think I’m going to be doing some playing with the Glass Bead Game, as suggested by Rob Donoghue on his blog, to put together the first session.

It’ll be fun.

Feints & Gambits: Our Dublin

After much fussing about with schedules, we managed to get everyone in the same room for several hours last Friday night and do the city-building for our new DFRPG game.

I’ve talked before about how much help doing the collaborative city-building is, and how it gives the players and characters a real emotional connection with the setting, but I don’t know if I’ve stressed enough what a great job it does just getting people excited to play. The way the possibilities start stacking up, the ideas flowing, the hints at stories, the outright conflicts – by the end of the evening, everyone is absolutely pumped to play in the city you’ve built.

At least, that’s been my experience whenever I’ve run the city-building.

So, on Friday, we trekked ((Through the first snowfall of the season, no less.)) out to the wilds of semi-rural ((I come from a much less populous section of the province, so the ruralness doesn’t quite reach the standards I am used to.)) Manitoba. We got into the actual process of city-building around 8:00, and finished up shortly after midnight, so we had a solid four hours of brainstorming and idea bashing.

In that time, we came up with ((There are a larger number of the various things we came up with than are probably necessary – or recommended. But it is a larger group, with six players, and everyone was very excited to be doing this, so I ran with it. We’ll see what things hold interest and generate story once play begins, and what things fall by the wayside, or become background colour.)):

  • Four Themes
  • Four Threats
  • Sixteen main power blocs
  • Eighteen Locations
  • Twenty-eight Faces
  • Fifty-five Aspects

We also wound up with a very cool version of Dublin, one where the Summer and Winter Courts are using the city ((And all of Ireland, really.)) as a gameboard in their eternal struggle for dominance, where the initial financial boom is starting to fade, where greedy human land developers have control of the politicians, while organized crime has infiltrated the police. Normal folks are still normal folks, trying to get by, but the echoes of the Trouble still rear their heads from time to time, and a new wave of invaders – Eastern Bloc gangs and supernatural creatures, led by Baba Yaga ((They came up with this one. They can’t blame me for how much I hurt them with it.)) – is pushing its way in.

I made sure that everyone had a chance for input, and that everyone got something they wanted in the city. I also made sure that everything that went in had approval from the whole group. As a GM running the city-building, I find that I slip more and more into the role of facilitator, guiding the process and helping to keep the group focused. Also, making sure we have consensus on the big decisions. It’s kind of a weird situation, where I feel myself almost outside of the main process, so much so that I’m apologetic when I make a suggestion or float one of my own ideas ((Which is silly; I’m as much a part of the group as anyone, and my ideas are as valid, even if I am the GM.)).

Now, I’m working on compiling the notes from the session into a setting bible, much as I did with the Fearful Symmetries campaign. One nice thing about setting the game in a modern city is that there are loads of pictures of the various locations up on the Internet that I can use to illustrate the bible ((And a nice thing about the group having picked Dublin is that I was doing research on the city anyway, preparatory to a trip there next fall. Gave me an excuse to buy a couple more travel books.)). So far, we’re looking at 23 pages with just the headings and the location pictures; figure 40-50 pages once the actual text copy goes in. That’s my project for this weekend, hoping to have it out to my group early next week.

I will also probably post it up on the campaign forum when finished.

Oh. The last thing we did that night as far as setting creation goes is pick a name for the campaign. The group decided on Feints & Gambits.

Now, we are working to schedule the character creation session. That’s the last session that I require full attendance for; after that, we move to a quorum style of play: I schedule the games, and we run as long as at least three players show for it.

Things are starting to come together for the game, and I am very pleased.

He’s Doing It Again!

If you’ve been following my Tweets, you know that last week I sent out invites to my game group for a new Dresden Files RPG campaign. I sent invitations to 11 folks, telling them all that the limit for the game was 6 people. I had all the slots filled within 36 hours.

Now, one of the reasons I sent the invite out to so many people is that I wanted to fill the slots fast; I’m terribly excited about starting a new DFRPG campaign. And I wanted to make sure that all the players who helped with the playtest – plus a couple of others – got invited.

It’s a weird experience for me, inviting players into a campaign at this stage. Usually, I have a pretty solid idea of the world and the big themes before I send an invitation to people, and I usually have an information packet ranging from 2 to 10 pages outlining things. I still sent an information package, but it was more about what I expected in the way of pregame, setting-building participation. It said this:

Okay, folks, you knew this was coming. This is your official invitation to join my Dresden Files RPG campaign. Now, before you get all excited, I’m setting some ground rules and expectations, so read this whole document first before you jump in with a commitment.

The Basics

  • I want to run this game quorum-style, so that we play as long as a minimum number of players can make it.
  • I don’t want players to have to double-up on characters, so if you can’t make it to a session, your character will not participate.
  • To help facilitate this, I’m going to be doing my best to keep things to bite-sized chunks, so that we don’t end a session in a circumstance where your character needs to be there for the next game, nor one where it is unlikely that a character could join the next session.
  • That said, I don’t want to have things quite as episodic as the Hunter game. I would like more of an opportunity to build in longer storylines that span multiple sessions.


These are the things I want to do to establish the game. I would like every player to participate. This will pretty much happen in the order listed.

  • Establish Power Level. There are four different power levels, and I want the group as a whole to choose which one we’re going to use. They are:
    • Feet in the Water: 6 refresh, 20 skill points, skill cap at Great. Enhanced mortal level. You can do stuff even the best of humanity cannot, but only barely.
    • Up to Your Waist: 7 refresh, 25 skill points, skill cap at Great. Low-level supernatural level. You may be a magical being, but you’re not big fish. This is where you can start playing a Sorcerer.
    • Chest Deep: 8 refresh, 30 skill points, skill cap at Superb. Minor-league powers, but at least you’re in the league. This is where you can start playing a Wizard.
    • Submerged: 10 refresh, 35 skill points, skill cap at Superb. Welcome to the show. This is the level we playtested, and is about the level of Harry Dresden at the beginning of Storm Front.
  • Pick a Setting. Where do we want to set the game? Winnipeg? Chicago? Baltimore? Another city? A rural setting? Road game? The Nevernever? I want the group to decide this. Everything is on the table: modern, historical, futuristic, sci-fi, whatever.
  • Build the Setting. I want to go through the city-building method in the book to develop the setting to a playable level. Even if we choose to play in Magical Winnipeg, I still want to go through the new method, even if we use a lot of the same material. For that, I need all the players to do a little prep work.
    • First, read the City Creation chapter in Your Story.
    • Second, do a little thinking about the setting we’ve picked. Make some notes, if you like.
    • Third, come to the city creation session, and we’ll put together the setting following the guidelines in the rules.
  • Build Characters. Character creation will take place in a group session, complete with all phases and the novels being done.
    • Make sure you have a solid character concept in mind, and have looked at the kinds of stunts and powers you will need to make it work. Of course, I’ll be more than happy to answer any questions before and during the session.
    • I am also going to be building two characters as NPCs, so that they have some tie to the PCs.
    • I would like to encourage anyone who is interested to build a second character during this session as an NPC. These characters will belong to me, and become canon in the game world.
  • Finish Up. Once the character creation session is done, we’ll likely need one more group session to finish off the setting creation and allow for any last-minute character adjustments.

Why all this blather?

I want to make sure that you realize, before committing to the game, that I want a fair bit of up-front work from the players to help establish the game. I’m looking at a minimum of an e-mail discussion to set the power level and the basic setting, one group session to build the setting, one group session for character creation, and one follow-up group session to finalize everything.

This is more group involvement than I usually ask for at the start of a campaign, but the way DFRPG is set up, this kind of thing will pay off in a much richer, more tailored campaign, with plenty of things tying the PCs to the world and the NPCs. It will also, I hope, create a greater emotional investment for the players, which will make the game more involving for all of you.

This prep work is taking the place of The Bribeâ„¢ for this campaign.

What’s next?

Read what I’ve written here and, if you want in and are willing to make the commitment I’m asking for, let me know. First six positive responses get in, but I’ll run with as few as three. Deadline for responses is October 1 – if I haven’t heard from you by then, I will consider that a no.

The last page of the invitation was a list of links to articles on this blog and on the DFRPG site about the game that I thought would be useful information.

We’re starting with a discussion about the power level and setting for the game, and brainstorming some character ideas. To facilitate this, I’ve set up a forum. Now, if you’re curious to watch the sausage of the game getting made, you’re welcome to visit the forum as a guest and read the posts; however, I’m only going to be activating accounts for the players and maybe one or two special outsiders, just to keep the conversations uncluttered. Don’t be offended if you try to register for the board and I turn you down.

Still interested in seeing what we’re doing? Okay. Here’s the link.

I’m really looking forward to the game. I can’t wait to see where it’s set and what it’s about.